Description & Technical information

Drawn on the 28th of November 1861, this fine character study of is one of a handful of Jewish subjects for which the artist found models in the Mühlendamm area of Berlin. Indeed, the present sheet may depict one of the city folk who would often wait outside Menzel’s studio for the chance to sit for the artist, in return for a small payment. The unknown sitter of this portrait is sympathetically depicted by the artist, and is, despite a degree of informality, imbued with more than a little dignity. This large sheet is drawn in an opaque gouache; Menzel’s preferred medium from the beginning of the 1860s onwards. As has been noted of the artist’s work of this period, ‘During the 1860s Menzel developed a technique using a combination of watercolour and gouache which was increasingly important for his work. He would apply the paint in several layers, occasionally scraping out or rubbing in the colours…his work in this medium…can look deceptively like oil painting but on a very small scale.’

The identification of the subject of this drawing as a Jewish man dates back to the period of its ownership by the artist’s sister Emilie, when it was described as such in Hugo von Tschudi’s 1905 catalogue of her collection. Character studies of bearded Jews occur infrequently in Menzel’s corpus of drawing and paintings, mainly in the 1850s, when he produced a series of portraits of elderly Jewish men. As the Menzel scholar Marie Ursula Riemann-Reyher has described these works, ‘Their faces are earnest, characterized by dignity and the contemplation of old age.’ A painting of an analogous subject, datable to 1856, is in the Städtische Kunsthalle in Mannheim, while an oil sketch of a similar Jewish type is in the collection of the Museum Georg Schäfer in Schweinfurt. The subject of the present sheet is, however, arguably less overtly ‘Jewish’ in appearance than these earlier works, and there is little to identify him as such.

This gouache study was among the works retained by the artist’s sister, Emilie Krigar-Menzel, when she came to sell most of her collection of works by her brother to the Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

Date:  28th of November 1861
Period:  1850-1900, 19th century
Origin:  Germany
Medium: Gouache, Pastel on brown paper
Signature: Signed and dated Ad. Menzel 28 Nov. / 61 at the upper right.

Dimensions: 43.4 x 31.4 cm (17¹/₈ x 12³/₈ inches)
Provenance: Among the contents of the artist’s Berlin studio at his death in 1905
By descent to the artist’s sister, Emilie Krigar-Menzel, Berlin
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 9 October 1997, lot 51
Jan Krugier and Marie-Anne Poniatowski, Geneva.

Literature: Hugo von Tschudi, Adolph von Menzel: Abbildungen seiner Gemälde und Studien, Munich, 1905, pp.276-277, no.405 (‘Kopf eines kahlköpfigen Juden mit Vollbart’); Tomàs Llorens, ed., Miradas sin tiempo: Dibujos, Pinturas y Esculturas de la Colección Jan y Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, 2000, pp.276-277, no.122 (entry by Marie Ursula Riemann-Reyher); Klaus Albert Schröder and Christine Ekelhart, ed., Goya bis Picasso: Meisterwerke der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, exhibition catalogue, Vienna, 2005, pp.114-115, no.43 (entry by Marie Ursula Riemann-Reyher); Christiane Lange and Roger Diederen, ed., Das ewige Auge – Von Rembrandt bis Picasso: Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, exhibition catalogue, Munich, 2007, pp.226-227, no.105 (entry by Marie Ursula Riemann-Reyher); Huon Mallalieu, ‘Beauty and the beast’, Country Life, 26 February 2014, p.103, fig.5.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints